March 3, 2021 Subject:
GD settle down
I hate to say it, but it takes until this fourth show of the tour for the Grateful Dead to finally settle down and play a show. I recall Phil sort of playfully shaking his fist at the crowd for clapping Bo Diddley-style and distracting Jerry away from a Row Jimmy into a mid-set Aiko that second night in Hampton. It was that kind of run. But here in Hartford, they chill enough to be able to focus on better ensemble playing as is evident right off the bat in Midnight Hour. That’s not to say it’s not as rockin’. It is but it’s that much weirder and that makes a difference.
Both C.C. Rider and the eventual Row Jimmy sound almost more like Hartford 84 than Hartford 87. As I listened to the Hampton shows after a healthy dose of 81-86 for about two years, the difference is as stark now as it was then. However, what seemed to be a welcome, renewed focus and deliberateness in the way they played the songs, it’s also clear that Jerry is not as weird as he used to be. I feel he regained that weirdness by the fall, but his runs are a little predictable and tied to scales in these spring 87 shows. This is not really true of the excellent Birdsong however. A worthy version and pretty out there in its own right, if no match for some of the spring 86 versions. I remember thinking it was cool that Jerry and Bob played rock n’ roll rhythm guitar for the last part of the jam in Promised Land. It’s funny how rare that one became in the late 80’s.
I had some very talkative New Yawkers around me during that China>Rider at the time but now I can appreciate what a monster it was. A lot of these songs have the same vibe as breakouts in that there’s not just a new way of playing them, the significance of some of the words is likewise new. Looks Like Rain is never bad. This is hardly one of the better ones though. They had speakers in the halls as was sometimes the practice at that time and I caught the rest of pre-drums with hall dancers and watched the Wharf Rats get ready for their gathering. Again, the first He’s Gone on the East Coast since the disastrous RFK shows is a highlight with Jerry hitting some unusually high notes in the coda and a less bluesy vibe than the past few years with an almost return to the falling pedal blossom guitar bloom that typically closed an early 70’s version. I remember being psyched to hear those high notes ringing off the anvil-shaped cavern that was Hartford Civic Center. The first interesting transition into Drums of the tour transitions into…Drums!
Space gets gnarly right before Miracle, Black Peter is emotional, and the Good Lovin is almost as good as the one from Portland the previous year.